UN sees Syria echoes in Myanmar conflict

Activists call for a week of protests against military coup over Myanmar’s traditional New Year holiday.

An anti-coup protester flashes the three-fingered salute while wearing a headband that reads R2P, which means Responsibility to Protect, during a gathering in Ahlone township in Yangon [AP]

The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday it fears the military clampdown on protests in Myanmar risks escalating a civil conflict into that seen in Syria and appealed for a halt to the “slaughter”.

UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement 3,080 had been detained and there are reports that 23 people have been sentenced to death following secret trials.

“I fear the situation in Myanmar is heading towards a full-blown conflict. States must not allow the deadly mistakes of the past in Syria and elsewhere to be repeated,” Bachelet said.

The statement came as pro-democracy activists in Myanmar called for a week of anti-coup protests during the traditional New Year holidays, as the death toll from the military’s crackdown on protesters surged past 700 and security forces raided a hospital in the Sagaing region.

The five-day New Year holidays, known as Thingyan, began on Tuesday and activists urged people to stage symbolic protests through the week, including by painting the three-finger salute used by demonstrators on traditional pots filled with flowers, which are typically displayed during the festive period.

“The military council doesn’t own Thingyan,” Ei Thinzar Maung, a leader of the General Strike Collaboration Committee protest group, wrote on Facebook. “The power of people is in the hands of people.”

Ei Thinzar Maung said other planned holiday protests against the military government included the splattering of red paint on pavements and the blasting of car horns.

Thingyan is the country’s most important holiday and is usually celebrated with prayers, ritual cleaning of Buddha images in temples, and high-spirited water fights on the streets.

Anti-coup protesters march carrying slogans on pots of flowers as they mark Thingyan on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar [AP]

But many social media users in Myanmar said they would not celebrate this year.

One Twitter user identified as Shwe Ei said, “We do not celebrate Myanmar Thingyan this year since over 700 of our innocent brave souls are killed by inhumane junta forces unlawfully. We believe we will win this revolution.”

In the central town of Taungoo, protesters placed Thingyan pots bearing flowers and anti-coup messages on the roads early on Tuesday, the Irrawaddy website reported.

Myanmar has been in crisis since the generals seized power on February 1. The military says it deposed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government because there had been fraud in the November election, which her National League for Democracy won in a landslide. The election commission, however, dismissed the accusation.

The coup has triggered daily protests by those opposed to military rule. The military has cracked down with lethal force, killing at least 710 protesters, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and killings.

The latest toll includes 82 people killed in the town of Bago, about 70km (45 miles) northeast of Yangon, on Friday.

Activists called for a Day of Silence to commemorate the victims of the violence and for a day of religious observance on Saturday, with Buddhists urged to wear religious attire and recite prayers together and Christian communities to wear white and read psalms.

Followers of other religions in the predominantly Buddhist country were urged to follow the call of their leaders.

People spatter red paint on buildings in tribute to the protesters who lost their lives during protests against the military coup [AP]

The Myanmar Now website, meanwhile, said security forces stormed the Grace Hospital in the town of Tamu early on Tuesday, severely beat up two guards and forced doctors and nurses there to hand over their phones at gunpoint.

Tamu, on the Myanmar-India border, saw violent protests over the weekend, with anti-coup protesters killing at least three soldiers during an ambush on a military convoy.

The protesters used homemade hunting rifles, according to Myanmar Now.

The military government could not be reached for comment.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, who has led Myanmar’s struggle against military rule for decades, has been detained since the coup and charged with various offences. These include violating the colonial-era official secrets act and could see her jailed for 14 years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies